Our world is pretty dependent upon microwaves! When I started questioning the safety of my microwave, I thought I’d never be able to do what that divine appliance could do for me without it. It came down to asking the same question for each different situation: What am I trying to do, and is there another way to do it? I’ve experimented and succeeded in many ways.
Top 10 Tips to Avoid Using The Microwave
1. Plan ahead
Thaw your meat and other frozen items in the refrigerator. I recommend giving things two full days to thaw. That way you won’t have any surprise frozen centers when you’re ready to cook. If you’re meal planning and making your life easier that way, this shouldn’t be a problem. (Alternative: for ground meats, you can just throw the whole frozen block in the pan and be willing to turn and peel off layers of cooked meat, or if you have an Instant Pot you can cook meat straight from the freezer in about half an hour) In a pinch, you can thaw meats packaged tightly in plastic bags in a sinkful of water – the safety pundits say to use cold water. I’ve cheated with hot water in the past as long as I’m cooking up the meat immediately. This is much quicker (and safer, with cold water) than just leaving things on the countertop to thaw.
2. Use your teapot for boiling water
It is sometimes just as quick as the microwave and stays hot longer!
3. Steam or roast your veggies
4. Use a pot to reheat
5. Use a toaster oven to reheat
Store your leftovers in glass containers and pop them right into the toaster oven. You can even reheat multiple servings of different foods this way. I stick with 350 degrees, and it takes anywhere from 5-30 minutes to reheat foods, depending on how dense or deep the food is in the container. Cover items that might brown on top with a bit of tinfoil (reuse it every time!). Do use a hot pad on the table for single serving dishes right out of the oven.
Note: For anything that could possibly be heated in a pot or pan, the stove is immeasurably quicker than the toaster oven or large oven, so you want to make your choices based on time available.
6. More toaster oven magic
Put pizza, hamburgers, tacos…any single item leftovers on a tray in the toaster oven. Again, you can reheat different stuff at the same time. You can even do a little plop of beans and rice or a chunk of lasagna on the tray.
No toaster oven? You can do all that in a regular oven as well, of course!
7. Reheat baby food/thaw food cubes
Use a glass dish and one cycle of “toast” (two or more for frozen cubes) will usually do it! This way you don’t have to set a timer, which is nice. Baby doesn’t need food very hot, anyway!
I also use the “toast” function for small things like muffins, pancakes, and thin tacos, as well as leftovers for my son who doesn’t like things too hot. It’s nice to be able to walk away and know I’m not going to let something burn if I forget to set don’t hear the timer.
8. Melt butter, cheese or chocolate for recipes
Either in a pan with lots of stirring, or even better, in a small pot that is nestled in a larger pot filled with water. I call this the poor man’s double boiler, and it’s great because it will prevent your chocolate or cheese from burning. (The large pot does NOT count as a dirty dish; just dump the water and air dry!)
9. Another double boiler fake-out
If you have leftover soup or sauce frozen in a glass jar (I like using spaghetti sauce jars – they’re free and just the right amount for my little family of 3 ½ eaters), you can put it in a pot of water and heat it up until you can pour out the soup into the pot (after you empty the water, of course!).
10. Pop your popcorn on the stovetop!
I felt silly when my friend told me how yummy and easy this is. I had never considered that it was possible! Just melt some fat (butter, olive oil, coconut oil) in a pot and put one kernel in. When it pops, add more kernels (up to a ½ cup) in a single layer and put the lid on. If you have a glass lid and kids to watch the action, this is a really fun activity! You can tell when it’s done just like in the mic: when the popping noise gets a few seconds apart, pull the pot off the heat quickly. Pour popcorn into a bowl, and you can use the same pot to melt some butter to drizzle on top if you’d like. Mmmmm…
Another option is to buy a popper; I just found one at a garage sale for a buck, and it works great! It’s 30 years old, which is a little scary, and it shot a few kernels across the room, but who doesn’t like a little daring and adventure in the kitchen?
A concern that a lot of people have with avoiding the microwave and using pots, pans, cookie sheets instead is the extra dishes it creates.
Here are some practical tips for managing your time and cutting down on dishes:
- Put soup on to boil or a casserole/leftovers in the toaster oven as soon as you walk into the kitchen for the meal. Often by the time you’ve gotten out everything you need for the meal, the food is hot.
- Try to use the same dish for reheating as for eating: either store your leftovers in glass, ovensafe dishes (Pyrex, Anchor-Hocking) or take a risk with your Corelle dishes.If you’re just gently reheating something like a thin layer of spaghetti for a youngster or melting cheese for nachos, you can probably get away with putting your plate right in the toaster oven, either on “toast” or “bake”. I realized one day that I often saw people put pancakes on a plate in a warm oven, and I tried putting one in my toaster oven. It didn’t break. I was excited with my new discovery! Since December I’ve only lost one plate — I think the kielbasa I was trying to heat up was (a) too cold (frozen) and perhaps (b) too greasy. It cracked the plate all to pieces. Sad, but I’m going to keep using Corelle in the toaster oven because they can go right into my dishwasher.
- Hang hot pads right near your toaster oven. That way you can easily grab one to get your leftovers out and then put it under your dish on the table. You’ll just get used to needing a hot pad under your plate.If you organize your space for efficiency, you’ll be more likely to feel positive about making a change.
- Use one pot for multiple leftovers. A single serving of soup or spaghetti and sauce, for example, heats up mighty fast in a pot on the stovetop. With the microwave we’re often willing to go one person at a time to reheat our leftovers, so why not on the stovetop? I’ll just heat soup, pour into a bowl, and quickly rinse the pot and dump the next person’s leftovers in it.
- A little planning goes a long way. If you know what you’re going to have for lunch or dinner, you can usually plan ahead and just start the process 15 minutes earlier, then tackle a short task while your food is reheating. Like I told you with my Best Ever Scrambled Eggs, if you can multitask to accomplish something while food is taking care of itself in the oven or on the stovetop, it doesn’t really “count” as taking longer to reheat.
How I Avoid Using The Microwave
You’ll remember from this post that I started out with a simple baby step when I decided the microwave might not be healthy for my family. I just chose to avoid it when I thought I could figure something else to do, but not to stress out about it. I was pondering the differences in my lunchtime shortly after, and I realized life may have actually changed for the better. Here’s my before-and-after:
- Get leftovers out, usually something different for me and my son.
- Put his in the microwave. (Worry that he’s standing there watching it turn around. More on this Friday.)
- Try to do another prep task in 30 seconds.
- Fail. Mic timer beeps too soon.
- Get his food out of the microwave. Put it on the table. Tell him lunch is ready.
- Get my food in the microwave.
- Cut a piece of fruit.
- Test the warmth of my food. Decide it’s not ready yet. Add 30 seconds.
- Get drinks; get interrupted by microwave.
- Put my food on the table.
- Begin to yell for son to come quickly because everything is ready!
- Daughter, of course, needs a new diaper about now.
- Change daughter’s diaper.
- Food is cold. Re-microwave son’s food.
- Re-microwave my food.
- Realize we still need drinks; complete that task.
- Realize we need condiments; get them out.
- Pray with son.
- Realize we need utensils; get them out.
- Take a bite of food.
- Decide food has gotten cold; re-microwave food.
And now that baby is eating solid food regularly, I could add more interruptions to get her food, feed her food, and wash her face. My microwaved food was always getting cold and needing to be re-nuked!
- Decide together what leftovers we will be eating; more often the same thing.
Added Bonus: Avoiding the microwave encourages me to choose the same leftovers as my son, ultimately requiring me to get fewer items out and simplifying lunch.
- Put something in the pot on the stove or on the tray or in glass dish(es) in the toaster oven; turn on heat.
- Focus attention on the rest of the meal.
- Cut fruit.
- Get out utensils.
- Find veggies to munch on.
- Pour beverages.
- Prepare baby’s food.
- Pull son’s food out (he’s afraid of hot things!).
- Call son to table, pray for meal, gather all the things I forgot about.
- Pull own meal out. Eat – drum roll, please! — hot food! A mother’s dream, really. We don’t eat hot food very often.
- After one or two bites, turn attention to feeding baby, getting son something else, or [fill in blank].
- Return to food…which is still something that could pass for “hot”. Not bad!
Usually, in truth, the food is ready by the time we’re ready. Sometimes we put the food in the toaster oven and play a little more. This makes my 3-year-old deliriously happy, and I don’t mind a little downtime either. I’m generally a tiny bit less stressed at lunchtime, so I prefer planning ahead and starting early to the rushing around to keep up with the microwave.
Rushing to Get Lunch?
If we have to get lunch quickly, like when we’ve just come in from shopping and it’s already 12:45, I can easily get food on the table, especially for the little ones, in 5 minutes. You choose sandwiches that day, or start with yogurt as an “appetizer” while other things are cooking. There are also many leftovers that heat up very quickly for a single serving: soup in a pot or a taco on a cookie sheet (at least hot enough for the son) in the toaster oven are two examples. Crudite platters are also nice and quick if you have veggies cut in advance, always a good practice to get families to eat more veggies.
13 Surprising Benefits of a Microwave-Free Life
I challenged myself to use the microwave less and less often, and here are some the surprising benefits I’ve stumbled upon as I succeed:
- Meat that is thawed in the fridge doesn’t (a) have some weird cooked spots from uneven microwave thawing and (b) is ready the second you walk into the kitchen.
- Popcorn on the stovetop or with a popper is really good and is healthier for my body than microwave popcorn.
- Hot chocolate is actually easier because I don’t have to run the microwave separately for each cup of water. I can flip on the teapot burner, then worry about getting mugs and hot chocolate mix organized. There is less “hands-on” time.
- Second helpings of casserole or soup are ready immediately, not when I scoop another serving and nuke it.
- I don’t always create more dishes: we can put leftovers in our glass dishes, which can go right into the toaster oven in single or double servings, then into the dishwasher to be sparkly clean!
- I am encouraged to eat the same thing as my children or guests, ultimately simplifying lunch preparation and cleanup. I counted the number of items I had to get out one day to feed my preschool-age son and myself. Between two different main courses, condiments, fruit in the yogurt, and drinks, I got up to over 20 things! That’s a bit ridiculous. I was ready to simplify!
- Bread products like pancakes, waffles and biscuits are good in the microwave, but not if you overdo them. Same with the toaster oven: a lot of people don’t like the “toasty” parts of reheating these in the toaster, but you can alleviate that problem by wrapping the items in aluminum foil.
- Leftover pizza, hamburgers and crispy nachos are MUCH tastier in the toaster oven.
- Ditto for anything with meat in it, especially chicken. I hate the toughness of chicken reheated in the microwave. Ask my mom: I used to eat cold leftover stir fry for breakfast in high school!
- I can lightly warm baby’s food in a glass dish with one “toast” cycle. I plan ahead and thaw my food cubes a day in advance, but if I’m in a pinch I can just toast a frozen cube longer.
- I am convinced that heating a pot of leftover soup (or any liquid-based meal) is quicker than heating two (or more!) separate bowls in the microwave, and it definitely makes certain everyone has hot food and eats at the same time. The toaster oven is not always as accommodating.
- I can make other parts of the meal (veggies, cut fruit, salads, drinks) while the leftovers are heating in the toaster oven. Sometimes avoiding the microwave doesn’t make lunch prep take any longer at all.
- The BEST one ever: Everything stays hotter longer when heated “for real”, either on the stove or in the oven. Hot chocolate, soup, steamed vegetables, you name it. Let me repeat that one, it’s worth it: Everything stays hot. That one is really nice.
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